23 February 2011

Anglican Covenant: the Study Guide

Just in time for Lent, the Anglican Communion Office has issued a Study Guide to assist ordinary Anglicans around the world in coming to a clear understanding of the proposed Anglican Covenant. The idea seems to be that people will gather in groups for five sessions to read through the text together and, assisted by the Study Guide, understand what the Covenant is all about and what it will accomplish.

Each session is supposed to focus on one part of the proposed Covenant, beginning with the Introduction - which actually isn’t part of the Covenant at all, but is intended to provide an interpretive framework for it - and then moving through the four sections of the Covenant itself. A single question is provided for the study of each section. These are:

For each paragraph, read the Bible passages that are mentioned in the text, read the text and discuss it, and then ask ‘How does this paragraph help me/us understand the Christian faith as Anglicans have received it?’
Section 1:
Read each paragraph and discuss it. How is each of these affirmations and commitments lived out in your church?
Section 2:
Read each paragraph separately and discuss it. How do you understand the work of your church in furthering the mission of God in the world?
Section 3:
Read each paragraph separately and discuss it. How do you experience each of these as equipping Anglicans for common life and mission?
Section 4:
Read each subsection (4.1, 4.2, 4.3). What might this mean for your church?
That’s it. Naturally, a few comments come to mind:

1) The stated purpose of the process of study and consultation is "that Anglicans around the world will have an opportunity to understand and rejoice in the commitment which the churches are being asked to make." Funny, that word "rejoice". I would have thought that the purpose of study would be so that Anglicans would be able to make an informed decision about whether to accept the commitment asked of them. Evidently there is no possibility that anyone will do anything upon understanding the Covenant but to rejoice.

2) There is a typo on page 15. The paraphrase of section 4.2.6 says "the Standing Committee many (sic) declare something incompatible with the Covenant." I don’t point this out to be nitpicky, but because this kind of error reflects the haste which has characterized the whole Covenant process. (There are a couple of typos and grammatical errors in the draft Covenant, too). No one is perfect, but surely something as important as this document should have been carefully proofread.

3) The Study Guide is extraordinarily thin on actual study. In essence all it says is "read this section and discuss it in a group". Yes, there is a guiding question for each section, but it seems that the authors of the Guide feel that the value of the Covenant is so self-evident upon a simple reading of the text that no discussion or explanation of it is necessary. Either that or they fear that anything like an in-depth study will lead to people seeing through it and start pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

Here are a few supplementary questions of my own:

Section 1:
Bearing in mind that these statements will be the basis on which the actions of  member Churches  may be judged in future, do you think these affirmations will be understood the same way by all members of the Anglican Communion? Are they clear enough to be used in a tribunal?
Section 2:
Based on reading the Covenant text, do you understand what it means by “communion?” What do you think your church should repent of (2.1.3)? Is there anything the whole Communion ought to repent of? Does mission mean different things in different contexts? Can you think of some examples of these differences? Do you think that all other Churches in the Anglican Communion will understand what mission means in your context?
Section 3:
Do you believe your Church is resolved to live in the Anglican Communion with all the current members? Do you believe that all other Churches in the Anglican Communion are resolved to live with your Church as a member? Do you agree that bishops have a central role as guardians and teachers of the faith (3.1.3)? What is the role of other clergy and the laity? Does the Covenant reflect that role? Does the description of the Instruments of Communion help you to understand these four bodies? Do you believe your Church respects the autonomy of the other Churches of the Communion? Do you believe the other Churches respect your Church’s autonomy? Does the Covenant provide adequate protection for the autonomy of the Churches?
Section 4:
Do you understand the process for deciding on controversial actions? Do you understand what is meant by relational consequences? Do you believe that it is helpful to impose relational consequences on a Church which is trying to live out its mission faithfully in its own context? If relational consequences were imposed on your Church, would you accept that the decision to do so is fair? Would you be troubled by the absence of a mechanism to appeal the decision?
In what ways do you believe adoption of the proposed Covenant would help or hinder your Church in its mission? In what ways do you believe the adoption of the proposed Covenant would help or hinder the development of the Anglican Communion? In what ways do you believe the adoption of the proposed Covenant would address or fail to address the current tensions in the Anglican Communion? Do you feel more hopeful about the continuing life of the Anglican Communion and your Church if the proposed Covenant is adopted or rejected? If it were up to you, would you vote to adopt or reject the proposed Covenant?
By all means, do go ahead and study the proposed Covenant. Ask your own questions of the document. Study it in depth. And then ask yourself if it truly does make you want to "rejoice."

As for the Study Guide, I think I will wait for the Motion Picture.


  1. The entire covenant enterprise is pathetic, and yet folks buy into it.

    Rejoice? Before the study of the document is even underway, we should be rejoicing? I don't think so.

  2. I LOVE your last statement about waiting for the motion picture!! At Lent, I would rather meditate on the stories in John's gospel where Jesus engages in interesting, complex, squirmy dialogues with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well... not this rubbish from Rowan and friends.
    I keep saying it: "The Church's one foundation is NOT an Anglican Covenant."

  3. This is not a guide to assist the churches in deciding how to act on this document. It is an exercise in usurped power. The guide says "Here is the covenant you are ordered to accept -- learn about it."


  4. Thanks, all.

    Funny thing is, I have yet to meet anyone who, after seriously studying the proposed Covenant, actually supports it.

    Bring on the study!


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